For this 59th edition of the Grand Prix, two laps of a big loop into the Lincolnshire lanes before the first ascent of the cobbles meant a break with tradition. Lincoln will host the national championships in 2015, requiring a longer parcours, and this was the dry run.
Or rather, the wet run. A suitably damp, squally May day, interspersed with bursts of sunshine, meant the riders reached Castle Square with the spattered appearance of Spring Classics men, only caked in Lincolnshire lanes grime, as opposed to Flandrian filth.
Reports reached us of a crash out on the big loop. Downing was down. Russell Downing. The younger of the two brothers had, along with NFTO team-mate Sam Harrison, collided with a stationary NEG motorbike. A broken collarbone for Russ. No record fifth win this time round.
Dean had missed the break and was fighting to get across, to no avail. There would be no Downing presence on the podium for once.
Downing, not out
Young Tom Moses of Rapha-Condor-JLT pushed on solo with two of the finishing laps remaining. Too soon, I thought, although losing team-mate Graham Briggs to a crash approaching the top of the climb tipped the balance away from the 22-year-old. A classic “amateur photographer staring transfixed down a lens takes out rider” moment that changed the race.
One hundred and twenty-one miles; eight times up Michaelgate. Moses would blow, surely? I looked to the chasing group for a likely winner and called it: Yanto Barker, the very same man unceremoniously dumped by the Downing brothers nine years earlier as Dean went on to win. The Raleigh rider has learnt much in the intervening years, in terms of training, measuring efforts and pure race-craft.
“You can lose 30 or 40 seconds on that climb if you have done too much,” Barker warns. “And that is exactly how much Moses lost.”
Michaelgate wreaks havoc
The Welshman’s classic red and yellow Raleigh jersey emerged first into Castle Square, a broad band of smiley white teeth contrasting with the blackened face earned from four and a half hours in the saddle. It took a few days for the smile to fade.
“It’s a fantastic race,” Barker enthuses. “It’s always been a UK monument, probably because the atmosphere is so consistently good. It generates the kind of crowd you associate with foreign races, but it’s a home race.
“And it’s always produced a deserving winner, in my experience. Because it is not a flat finish: it is down to whoever has got the most horsepower on the final climb. There is never a winner who has sat on in an easy move. It’s always the guys who have pushed every step of the way, made all the right decisions.
“I look at the list of winners and feel incredibly proud to now be on it. I remember going there in ’99, which is the first year I rode it, and coming up against the likes of Jeremy Hunt, and since then Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift, Peter Kennaugh. It’s one that they recognise that, if they are going to come back and do a UK race, it is the one.
“The other thing about the Lincoln, is the history. There are not many races that have lasted so long unbroken.”
They’re pushing the boat out for 2015 and the 60th running of the Lincoln, hosting the national championships as Ian Emmerson retires with a bang. The economic benefit survey the organisers have conducted in recent years show £0.5m coming into the city for the one-day race. “Next year will be closer to £4m – it is four days of events,” Emmerson says. No wonder the former British Cycling Federation president was awarded an OBE for services to sport and an honorary degree from the university. He is, in every sense, Mr Lincoln.
Extract from This Island Race, featuring the Lincoln GP, Tour in Yorkshire, Giro in Belfast, Women's Tour, CiCLE Classic and more